An elk hunt to remember | TheFencePost.com

An elk hunt to remember

Jeff McKinney

After nearly 30 minutes of glassing the elk that was bedded in the black timber on the ridge across the creek, I could finally see antlers on the bull I had been spying. From the look of things, he was a mature bull. After hunting hard for three days, covering many miles of up and down country, seeing hundreds of elk, I finally spotted a shooter. Now, all I had to do was get close enough to shoot. That wasn’t going to be an easy task, as I had a good thousand yards to cover, 500 of which was open country, with all those bedded elk eyes looking at me.

I looked over at my wife and said, “Honey, let’s try to get closer.”

We started down the mountain, mostly sliding on our rear ends, staying low and hiding behind the scrub oak and tall grass. We were on the southeast slope of the mountain. With little cover, we made due with what we had.

We covered close to 500 yards and an elevation drop of 250 feet. We quickly relocated the bull, who was still bedded in the shade, chewing his cud and thankfully unaware of our presence.

Over the next 45 minutes, we maneuvered the other 500 yards and another 250 foot drop. Now within comfortable rifle range of about 300 yards, I needed to get a good rest and steady my rifle for the shot.

Once situated and comfortable, I placed the crosshairs of my 300 WIN Mag steady on his lung area. Unfortunately an aspen branch was covering his vitals. I told Meredith, my wife, to hold tight and I was going to drop down a little bit to get under that aspen branch. I slid down another 20 to 30 feet. Now I am able to get a great, clean shot.

Recommended Stories For You

Now to find a good clump of grass or bush to set my rifle on. I find it! Steady, release the safety, line up my crosshairs, start squeezing the trigger … The bulls stands up! I can only see his back half. I wait a few more seconds for him to move, and he takes a few steps and disappears behind the pine trees.

Well, I thought to myself, “That was a good practice in patience.” There’s no way he saw me and the wind was just right.

I climbed back up the hill to Meredith. She asks me why I didn’t shoot. I told her he got up and I couldn’t get a clear shot. I knew she was disappointed after all the work, sweat, and splinters in our backsides from sliding down the hill for nothing.

“Honey, let’s go on down to the creek and get out of the sun. Eat some lunch,” I said.

“Sounds good to me,” she responded.

This hunt was years in the making. Meredith had saved up six Colorado elk preference points and I had saved seven, hoping to draw a good tag and hunt a great unit. We wanted to shoot some decent bulls, as far as bulls go in Colorado. After much study, we finally locked in on a RFW (Ranching for Wildlife) Private Land hunt. I had hunted the surrounding public land for a number of years and thought I understood the pattern of the elk in the area. I hoped to hunt their escape routes and intercept them on their way off the public lands. Hoping for a chance at a shooter bull before they made it safely to the unhuntable ranches was my goal.

We were where we wanted to be on opening morning, overlooking some major escape routes. When the sun finally started coming up, we spotted elk. Five here, 10 there, 20 over there, some in shooting range, some too far away, but no decent sized bulls. Mostly rag horns, spikes and lots of cows. It was close to 10 a.m., when we decided to move over and get a little closer to the migration trails. When I say migration, I don’t mean winter migration. I mean a migration to “ranches of safety.” These elk use the public ground as “calving grounds” or summering grounds, where they will stay until pressured by hunters. Then they migrate out by the thousands. Many will be slaughtered on their mass exodus off the public land, but once they make it to the private ranches they are “home free.” The exception is the few private land hunters, which Meredith and I are, who have a RFW tag.

We found a good spot and set up. In just a few minutes we see a head of 50 elk, mostly spikes and cows, but toward the back of the herd we see a nice shooter bull. He is a little too far away, close to 600 yards, and covering some ground at a steady pace. Mere and I decide we can’t cover that much country before they are gone. So we just watch and drool as they disappear in to the forest.

Only a few minutes elapse before we observe another large herd, but they are close to a thousand yards away. Again, just a couple of rag horns in the bunch.

We finish up the day finding a few cows. As the sun sets, we head back to camp for a hot dinner.

We choose to hunt another area the next morning. It is not long after shooting light that we scope out a few walk by the quakies. We hold tight, not wanting to spook them. I feel the wind blowing on the back of my neck and know we have only seconds until they blow out. Hurriedly, we look them over for antlers but don’t see anything worthwhile. Sure enough, they catch wind of us. The woods come alive with breaking branches, tumbling logs and whatever else is in their way as they escape.

We come to the conclusion, based on all the noise, that we have only seen part of the herd. Most of the elk are still in the timber when they winded us. Meredith and I hurry down to the rolling grass hills to glass. We spot nothing much close by, but we do spot a few herds crossing 1,500 yards farther down. We move fast to get lower.

On the way down, I glass for a few minutes, and sure enough, I see elk moving up toward us. One looks like a nice bull. I tell Mere, “Hurry! I see a shooter.”

We cover another four to five hundred yards and get our shooting sticks set up. “Here they come,” I whisper to Meredith. “Get ready, sweety. The one in the back is a shooter.”

We rest our rifles on our shooting sticks and get our breathing under control. I cow call with a diaphragm and they stop. Meredith shoots and the bull drops. I figure this is as good a time as any to fill my cow tag, as he is following several cows. I pick a cow and shoot. She runs up the hill and collapses. I hear Mere shoot again. Her bull is back up! She shoots again and finally the bull is down for good. Boy, are we pumped!

We keep a sharp eye out for a few minutes to make sure our animals aren’t getting up again. After gathering our shooting sticks and spent casings, we head over to the elk. We see Meredith’s bull’s antlers sticking up in the tall grass. What a sight!

Mere goes over, gun ready in case he is still moving. She touches the eye with her barrel. He’s dead! She has a huge smile on her face. I love those smiles! We give each other a big hug. She is pumped to kill her first elk, a beautiful mature 5-by-5, at that!

We made it over to the bull. He is dead. I finally get the mature bull I had been saving my preference points years for, a nice 6-by-6 elk!

Meredith and I dressed out the bull as Don went for his truck. What a blessing to have him drive right up to the bull and load him in. No quartering, no packing him out, piece by piece. This is a great way to hunt!

As we head back to our truck to transfer the bull over, I was overwhelmed with how enjoyable the last few days have been. What a blessing to hunt with my lovely bride, a real trooper. She hiked many, many miles with me, never complaining, and stuck with me until the very end. God blessed us with an awesome adventure. Truly this was a hunt to be remembered.

After nearly 30 minutes of glassing the elk that was bedded in the black timber on the ridge across the creek, I could finally see antlers on the bull I had been spying. From the look of things, he was a mature bull. After hunting hard for three days, covering many miles of up and down country, seeing hundreds of elk, I finally spotted a shooter. Now, all I had to do was get close enough to shoot. That wasn’t going to be an easy task, as I had a good thousand yards to cover, 500 of which was open country, with all those bedded elk eyes looking at me.

I looked over at my wife and said, “Honey, let’s try to get closer.”

We started down the mountain, mostly sliding on our rear ends, staying low and hiding behind the scrub oak and tall grass. We were on the southeast slope of the mountain. With little cover, we made due with what we had.

We covered close to 500 yards and an elevation drop of 250 feet. We quickly relocated the bull, who was still bedded in the shade, chewing his cud and thankfully unaware of our presence.

Over the next 45 minutes, we maneuvered the other 500 yards and another 250 foot drop. Now within comfortable rifle range of about 300 yards, I needed to get a good rest and steady my rifle for the shot.

Once situated and comfortable, I placed the crosshairs of my 300 WIN Mag steady on his lung area. Unfortunately an aspen branch was covering his vitals. I told Meredith, my wife, to hold tight and I was going to drop down a little bit to get under that aspen branch. I slid down another 20 to 30 feet. Now I am able to get a great, clean shot.

Now to find a good clump of grass or bush to set my rifle on. I find it! Steady, release the safety, line up my crosshairs, start squeezing the trigger … The bulls stands up! I can only see his back half. I wait a few more seconds for him to move, and he takes a few steps and disappears behind the pine trees.

Well, I thought to myself, “That was a good practice in patience.” There’s no way he saw me and the wind was just right.

I climbed back up the hill to Meredith. She asks me why I didn’t shoot. I told her he got up and I couldn’t get a clear shot. I knew she was disappointed after all the work, sweat, and splinters in our backsides from sliding down the hill for nothing.

“Honey, let’s go on down to the creek and get out of the sun. Eat some lunch,” I said.

“Sounds good to me,” she responded.

This hunt was years in the making. Meredith had saved up six Colorado elk preference points and I had saved seven, hoping to draw a good tag and hunt a great unit. We wanted to shoot some decent bulls, as far as bulls go in Colorado. After much study, we finally locked in on a RFW (Ranching for Wildlife) Private Land hunt. I had hunted the surrounding public land for a number of years and thought I understood the pattern of the elk in the area. I hoped to hunt their escape routes and intercept them on their way off the public lands. Hoping for a chance at a shooter bull before they made it safely to the unhuntable ranches was my goal.

We were where we wanted to be on opening morning, overlooking some major escape routes. When the sun finally started coming up, we spotted elk. Five here, 10 there, 20 over there, some in shooting range, some too far away, but no decent sized bulls. Mostly rag horns, spikes and lots of cows. It was close to 10 a.m., when we decided to move over and get a little closer to the migration trails. When I say migration, I don’t mean winter migration. I mean a migration to “ranches of safety.” These elk use the public ground as “calving grounds” or summering grounds, where they will stay until pressured by hunters. Then they migrate out by the thousands. Many will be slaughtered on their mass exodus off the public land, but once they make it to the private ranches they are “home free.” The exception is the few private land hunters, which Meredith and I are, who have a RFW tag.

We found a good spot and set up. In just a few minutes we see a head of 50 elk, mostly spikes and cows, but toward the back of the herd we see a nice shooter bull. He is a little too far away, close to 600 yards, and covering some ground at a steady pace. Mere and I decide we can’t cover that much country before they are gone. So we just watch and drool as they disappear in to the forest.

Only a few minutes elapse before we observe another large herd, but they are close to a thousand yards away. Again, just a couple of rag horns in the bunch.

We finish up the day finding a few cows. As the sun sets, we head back to camp for a hot dinner.

We choose to hunt another area the next morning. It is not long after shooting light that we scope out a few walk by the quakies. We hold tight, not wanting to spook them. I feel the wind blowing on the back of my neck and know we have only seconds until they blow out. Hurriedly, we look them over for antlers but don’t see anything worthwhile. Sure enough, they catch wind of us. The woods come alive with breaking branches, tumbling logs and whatever else is in their way as they escape.

We come to the conclusion, based on all the noise, that we have only seen part of the herd. Most of the elk are still in the timber when they winded us. Meredith and I hurry down to the rolling grass hills to glass. We spot nothing much close by, but we do spot a few herds crossing 1,500 yards farther down. We move fast to get lower.

On the way down, I glass for a few minutes, and sure enough, I see elk moving up toward us. One looks like a nice bull. I tell Mere, “Hurry! I see a shooter.”

We cover another four to five hundred yards and get our shooting sticks set up. “Here they come,” I whisper to Meredith. “Get ready, sweety. The one in the back is a shooter.”

We rest our rifles on our shooting sticks and get our breathing under control. I cow call with a diaphragm and they stop. Meredith shoots and the bull drops. I figure this is as good a time as any to fill my cow tag, as he is following several cows. I pick a cow and shoot. She runs up the hill and collapses. I hear Mere shoot again. Her bull is back up! She shoots again and finally the bull is down for good. Boy, are we pumped!

We keep a sharp eye out for a few minutes to make sure our animals aren’t getting up again. After gathering our shooting sticks and spent casings, we head over to the elk. We see Meredith’s bull’s antlers sticking up in the tall grass. What a sight!

Mere goes over, gun ready in case he is still moving. She touches the eye with her barrel. He’s dead! She has a huge smile on her face. I love those smiles! We give each other a big hug. She is pumped to kill her first elk, a beautiful mature 5-by-5, at that!

We made it over to the bull. He is dead. I finally get the mature bull I had been saving my preference points years for, a nice 6-by-6 elk!

Meredith and I dressed out the bull as Don went for his truck. What a blessing to have him drive right up to the bull and load him in. No quartering, no packing him out, piece by piece. This is a great way to hunt!

As we head back to our truck to transfer the bull over, I was overwhelmed with how enjoyable the last few days have been. What a blessing to hunt with my lovely bride, a real trooper. She hiked many, many miles with me, never complaining, and stuck with me until the very end. God blessed us with an awesome adventure. Truly this was a hunt to be remembered.